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<h1>Virginia's Shenandoah Valley</h1>

Virginia's 140-miles long Shenandoah Valley lies between the Allegheny and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This incredibly beautiful region has been a staging ground for history since the 1600s and for Native Americans for approximately 11,000 years prior to that. The Chester and Manassas Gaps afforded natural access for people and goods into the valley where they could transport goods via the Shenandoah River.

In 1788 Front Royal was formally founded as a river town. During the Revolution the area had supplied much needed goods to the colonists and they continued to supply both America and Europe in the 19th-century. http://www.discoverfrontroyal.com

Front Royal was originally named LeHewtown, in honor of the French Huguenot landowner who held 200-acres in 1754. The origin of the city's name is unclear but some believe that early French inhabitants referred to it as the royal frontier or, "le front royal," The second most popular version is that the colonial militia had difficulty following directional commands so they were told to "front the Royal Oak," a giant oak tree on the parade ground. The city was made Warren County's seat in 1840. In 1861 Virginia was the most densely populated of the slave states and held the largest number of slaves. However the state was divided on secession and did not leave the Union with the initial group of states.

The Alexandria, Orange and Manassas Gap Railroad began service in the 1850s and that, other transportation routes, the Valley's geography and its food production, made the city of enormous strategic importance to both sides in the Civil War. The Valley provided food for the Confederates throughout the war and it was not until Sheridan's 1864 Valley Campaign that the back door to DC was shut after 4-years of continuous fighting, Grant had visited and mandated Sheridan to do everything necessary to stop the supply line. Sheridan cut a 100-mile path through the Valley burning and destroying crops. His campaign continues to be referred to as "The Burning." The war ended in 1865.

Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign consisted of several battles, one of which, The Battle of Front Royal, took place on May 23, 1862.The battle routed 1,000 Union soldiers and resulted in a surprise attack that halted the Union in their drive to Richmond.

The Battle of Front Royal Driving Tour consists of ten stops that interpret antebellum and Civil War history. Each stop is designated with a marker and brochures with driving directions, maps and site information are available at the Visitor's Center, the point of departure. The 16-mile trail winds throughout the town and along the banks of the Shenandoah River. Much of the landscape has undergone very little change.

The Warren Heritage Society, established in 1971, is located in the 1819 Ivy Lodge. Museum exhibits relate the history of Front Royal and visitors can obtain information and brochures on area sites and attractions. The building is located on Chester Street, the oldest street in the city, and is actually a complex consisting of several structures and a gift shop. A 33-site walking tour brochure is available. The 170-acre Front Royal Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. http://www.warrenheritagesociety.org

Because of the number of troops in Front Royal it was also a hotbed of spies the most famous of which was the notorious Confederate spy Belle Boyd. The 19-year old Belle and her mother relocated from Winchester after her father joined the Confederate army. In 1862 a Union soldier insulted her mother and Belle shot him. They then joined relatives who owned a hotel in the city and the family moved to a cottage in the rear while the Union was headquartered in the hotel. At the time ofthe Battle of Fort Royal she managed to pass through enemy lines and passformation to Stonewall Jackson and facilitated his decision to attack the Union.

Belle was denounced as a spy many times and sent to prison three times. She survived the war, wed three times and became an actress. Some people believe she was the model for Scarlett O'Hara.

The Belle Boyd Cottage is a typical 2 over 2 with a central hall. There are no original furnishings but the flooring is original. Highlights of the tour are the many photographs of Belle and an outstanding portrait that symbolically captures her life and spirit.

The Balthis House is a Federal-style townhouse built as a 2-story, timber-framed house with dependencies. The original section of the house is dated from 1788 and was owned by two town trustees. This is the oldest extant house in the city.

Mrs. Milton Fristoe held Mary Fristoe as a slave and she continued as a worker after Emancipation. In 1908, upon the death of her employer she received an inheritance that allowed her to purchase a rental property at 46 Chester St. Mary died in 1911 at the age of 55 and was interred in the Fristoe family plot.

Rose Hill is a private dwelling but it is possible to view the exterior of the building. The 2-story Greek Revival home with Federal elements was constructed in 1830. South of the house sits what was once a 2-story wooden slave quarters/kitchen.

Front Royal is the northern entrance to the spectacular, 105-mile, Skyline Drive that runs through Shenandoah National Park. Here you can hike the Appalachian Trail and take in scenic vistas that include more than 800 wildflower species.

The Shenandoah received its name, "Clear-Eyed Daughter of the Stars," from a Native American legend. It was said that to honor the beauty of the valley the heavens blessed the waters with some of the luminosity of the stars to make them even more lustrous. The first nonindigenous people to view the valley were English settlers in 1716 and within 20-years immigrants, mainly from PA, moved into the region. They followed an established Indian path that they named the Great Wagon Road. A Native presence is still seen there in the Monocan Village and Living History Exhibit.  http://www.lexingtonvirginia.com

A royal grant was given to Benjamin Borden and from that Rockbridge County was formed and named after the area's most prominent geological feature, the Natural Bridge. The first written evidence of Natural Bridge is in 1759 and the formation was fully documented by French scientists in the 1770s. George Washington surveyed the area in 1750 and visitors can still see where he carved his name in the rock. It is designated one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of the World."http://www. naturalbridgeva.com

The first owner of the land that included the bridge was Thomas Jefferson whose patent was registered in July of 1774. He paid 20-shillings, $24,675.70, for 157-acres of land. Jefferson constructed a 2-room log dwelling in 1802 and left a black man, Patrick Henry, as manager. One of the rooms was for guests and a book was left for guests to write comments. Henry was given land and a cabin by Jefferson and he lived there as manager until his 1829 death. Four years later the land passed out of Jefferson's family.

Natural Bridge is soon to be designated a Virginia State Park and this is the perfect time to visit. the site includes the Bridge, Monocan Indian Living History Exhibit, Cedar Creek Trail, the Drama of Creation sound and light show and a historic hotel. The Bridge is accessed by shuttle or by taking a staircase to a ravine path that leads to the Bridge. It is an awesome sight, 215-ft.high, 60-150-ft. wide with a length of 90-ft. and an arch approximately 48-ft. thick. The path also leads to a recreated Monocan village complete with authentically dressed interpreters. Fifty-minute Cavern Tours, descending 34-stories, the deepest caverns on the East Coast, are also offered.

One of the inventions that changed agricultural history was invented in the Valley in 1831 when 22-year-old Cyrus McCormick took over a project that his father had worked on for 16-years. His mechanical reaper cut, threshed and bundled the grain using horsepower. Prior to his reaper it took one man one day to harvest 3-acres. With a mechanical reaper it took 1-hour per acre. He worked on perfecting it and in 1834 he was granted a patent. The reaper was not really successful, even though it replaced hours of backbreaking toil, in the Valley because of the cost and the fact that the hilly land was not conducive to its use. He moved his operation to Chicago in 1847 where he could benefit from the flat fields of the Midwest. In 1851 his invention was recognized with a medal and he and it became internationally famous.

Tours of the original McCormick Farm are free. Self-guided visits provide access to the 1822 family home, gristmill, blacksmith shop, museum and workshop. The site also includes nature trails and picnic facilities. Research continues to be conducted on the 634-acre farm. Today the McCormick Company is International Harvester.

Historic Brownsburg is one of the county's brightest gems. The entire village was listed in 1973 on the National Register based on the criteria that, based on its largely unaltered size and appearance and presents a unique picture of an early Valley village. Brownsburg was founded in 1793 and flourished until roads and the railway passed it by. At its height it was on the stagecoach line and had about 20 homes, businesses and an academy. A self-guided walking tour brochure is available that lists 20 sites with historic information and a map. Structures date from 1760 to 1928.

Tours begin in the Brownsburg Museum with emphasis on village history and that of renowned residents of Rockbridge. A real highlight is the story of Michael Miley who began his career in photography after the Civil War. He began developing a color process and in 1902 he patented the process. He gained fame as General Lee's photographer. The museum displays one of his early color photographs.

The museum's current main exhibit is "Grain into Gold." It traces the general and agricultural history of the area using early tools, photographs and other artifacts. The exhibition is notable for its inclusion of all of the regional ethnic groups. The importance of regional farming and distilling are emphasized. It was the Shenandoah Valley that supplied the flour and whiskey to miners during the Gold Rush. The use of enslaved and free black workers is explored and research places them in all occupations and as important laborers in mills and distilleries. Pennsylvania's Ned Tar is cited as the first black landowner in the early 1700s.                                                                                    http://www.brownsburgva.wordpress.com/brownsburg-museum

The Frontier Culture Museum is an absolute must if you are in the area. It is located in Staunton, an independent city that does not fall under county jurisdiction. This outstanding complex brings to life through demonstrations, outdoor reconstructions and live interpretations, the ethnic farmsteads from which the cultures that settled the Valley came from. The compounds represented, West Africa, England, Germany, Ireland, Native American and Virginia, are authentic and include homes, work areas and outbuildings. http://www.frontiermuseum.org

Approximately 250,000 Africans were brought to North America with 40% of those brought to VA from the West African Coast, most of them Igbo. The farm in the museum interprets life before removal from Africa within a free Igbo compound. Life in Africa and the African contributions to American culture, agriculture, cuisine, music, etc., are stressed. This is a 3-hour adventure and visitors can walk or rent a golf cart. A complete schedule of activities and events is available online. http://www.Virginia.org

Lexington, the seat of Rockbridge County, was founded in 1778. The town was once known as Gilbert Campbell's Ford after the area's first landowner. It was renamed in honor of the village in Massachusetts where an early Revolutionary battle took place. The city was located near the North River, now the Maury River, along the Great Road and consisted of 6 streets and 36 lots on land that was owned by Gilbert Campbell's heir. Individual lots were 128-ft. by 195-ft. and all the streets except one, Main, were named after Virginia's Revolutionary heroes. It was incorporated in 1841.                                  http://www.Lexingtonvirginia.com

Agriculture was Virginia's mainstay and although Virginia representatives railed against slavery in 1787 the institution lasted until the Civil War. An 1832 emancipation bill failed passage by one vote. At that time the cost of VA's enslaved approximated $100,000,000. By 1861 VA had the largest number of slaves and slaveowners of any state. Virginia was pivotal during the Civil War and more battles, 384, took place there than any other state.

Lexington is a significant stop on several Civil War trails, not only because of Union and Confederate presence, but also because of the roles several figures played in history. The historic area is little changed and visitors can view the architecture and unique sites while taking a narrated carriage tour along the original streets. Tours are 50-minutes and provide an excellent orientation and overview. http://www.Lexcarriage.com

Miller's House Museum at Jordan's Point is a good place to begin your tour because it interprets the impact of transportation on the history of the region through its "Roads, Rivers and Rails". The house dates from 1811 and is situated on The Great Road that was used by people migrating into the area. It was originally an Indian path and eventually became a toll road leading to a canal. A highlight of the tour is an original bateau, a boat used on the canal.

Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson became legendary during the Civil War but his story was shaped by events that took place in Lexington. He graduated from West Point in 1846 and served in the US Army in the Mexican War. In 1851 he took a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington teaching Natural and Experimental Philosophy. In 1854 his first wife, Elinor Junkin, died in childbirth and he emancipated her slaves. In 1857 he wed Mary Anna Morrison and the following year he purchased a 2-story brick, Federal-style home in Lexington. They owned 5 slaves, Albert, Amy, Hetty, Mary Ann's nursemaid, and her 2 sons and Emma, a 4-year old girl. 

The 45-minute house tour includes period furnishings and personal possessions. Of particular note are a piano purchased for his wife that cost 3-months salary, the bedroom furniture from his first marriage and his framed diploma on his study wall. In 1861 a messenger delivered the order for Jackson to march VMI cadets to Richmond. He would not return alive. The home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been fully restored. http://www.stonewalljackson.org

In 1855 Jackson started the Lexington Presbyterian Church Sunday School for blacks. As a Christian he felt that the enslaved could benefit from hearing the Bible being read to them and those who memorized verses were gifted with a Bible. When the community learned that some of the blacks were learning to read after being given a Bible they spoke to Jackson but he refused to stop. Classes were held at 3 PM each Sunday and sometimes numbered 100.

On May 2, 1863 General Jackson was shot by friendly fire at Chancellorsville. His left arm was amputated and eight days later he died of pneumonia. A reverend carried Jackson's arm to a nearby plantation and buried it in the family cemetery. Jackson's body was taken to Lexington and interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery, later renamed the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.      

Little Sorrel, his horse, was cremated upon his death in 1886. His bones were buried at VMI and his mounted hide is displayed in the VMI Museum along with personal items belonging to Jackson. Jackson Memorial Hall shares a building with the museum and a statue of Jackson at Chancellorsville is on the Parade Ground. The statue is set amidst 4 Cadet Battery guns used by Jackson for artillery training, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. VMI's museum displays personal items connected with the life of Stonewall Jackson. http://www.Vmi.edu/museum

The VMI 13-site walking tour is less than 2-miles and includes the George C. Marshall Museum. The museum interprets the period from his WWI Service through his military and diplomatic contributions pre and post WWII. From 1939-45 Marshall served as the Army Chief of Staff and as Secretary of State from January 1947 to January 1949. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in 1953. Highlights of a visit are his Nobel Peace Prize, his office and a 15-minute orientation film. A statue of Marshall is located on the campus. http://www.Marshallfoundation.org

Augusta Academy was founded in 1749 and renamed Washington College after he endowed the institution with a monetary gift in 1796. Robert E. Lee was named president after the Civil War and the school became Washington & Lee University after his death in 1870.


Lee Chapel & Museum houses the crypt in which the Lee family is interred. Adjacent to the crypt is a museum displaying historic artifacts and Lee's office, just as it was when he died. On the upper level is the 1875 sculpture of a reclining Lee by Edward Valentine. Lee's most famous mount, Traveller, went with him to the university. After Lee's death he refused to be ridden and died of tetanus a year after Lee and is buried on the exterior of the chapel. His stable is kept open so that his spirit can return.

The 1827 Col Alto mansion is now a stately Hampton Inn that takes southern hospitality to a new level. The hotel is located on 7 scenic acres in the historic district and offers all the amenities including complimentary WIFI, outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and complimentary hot breakfast.

This is the centennial of the National Park system and it is a great time to make the trip.



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